Three interview sessions: 21 April 2014, 7 March 2014, 21 April 2014
Approximate total duration: 5 hour 15 minutes
Interviewer: Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.
For supplementary materials:
Please contact, the Historical Resources Center, Research Medical Library:
Javier Garza, MSIS, firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Interview Subject:
Mien-Chie Hung, Ph.D. (b. 4 September 1950, Taiwan, Republic of China) came to MD Anderson in 1986 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Tumor Biology and in the Graduate School of Biomedical Science. In 1992, Dr. Hung was the first to show that the adenovirus type EA1 gene has antitumor activity in HER2/neu cancer cells. Dr. Hung has been recognized internationally for his work on signaling transduction pathways of tyrosine kinase growth factor receptors and molecular mechanisms of oncogenes, including transformation and tumorigenesis. He has long been involved in translational research, and has developed therapies for breast, ovarian and pancreatic cancer. Since 2000 he has served as Chair of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Oncology. In 2010 he was appointed Vice President for Basic Research.
Major Topics Covered:
Personal and educational background; witty and humorous personal stories
Experiences of a Chinese immigrant and foreign graduate student
The working strategies, inspirations, and commitment of a basic/translational scientist
Research: signaling pathways and genes
Department of Molecular and Cellular Oncology: history, evolution, personal vision forResearch culture at MD Anderson
Vice President of Basic Research
The Institute for Basic Science
Effective leadership and mentoring
Training young scientists
Interview Session One: 20 February 2014
Choosing Biochemistry: a Window into the Complexity of the Universe
Chapter 01 / Educational Path
Experiencing Culture Shock in the United States
Chapter 02 / Personal Background
A High Pressure Ph.D. Program and Research in Protein Biochemistry
Chapter 03 / Educational Path
Post-Doctoral Study at MIT and Work on Oncogenes: the neu oncogene and c-erbB2 gene
Chapter 04 / The Researcher
The Right Time in the Biochemistry to Move into Cancer Studies
Chapter 05 / Joining MD Anderson/Coming to Texas
Interview Session Two: 7 March 2014
Recruited to Bring Cutting-Edge Oncogene Research to MD Anderson
Chapter 06 / Joining MD Anderson/Coming to Texas
Early Work on Oncogenes and Adenoviruses: The First Gene Therapy
Chapter 07 / The Researcher
The Rationale Behind Translational Research and Why MD Anderson Provides a Good Environment
Chapter 08 / The Researcher
Training Basic Scientists: Grasping the Field and Preparing for the Future
Chapter 09 / The Educator
Research into Receptors, Pathways, Cross-Talk and the Utility of Existing Drugs
Chapter 10 / The Researcher
Co-Director of the Women’s Cancer Moon Shot Program: An Environment of Team Science and Translational Research
Chapter 11 / The Researcher
Interview Session Three: 21 April 2014
Developing Translational Research at MD Anderson
Chapter 12 / Building the Institution
A Twenty-Year Study that Promises a Paradigm Shift: The Yeast Two-Hybrid System
Chapter 13 / The Researcher
The Department of Molecular and Cellular Oncology
Chapter 14 / Building the Institution
Vice President of Basic Research; The Institute for Basic Science
Chapter 15 / The Administrator
Leaving a Legacy in Research, Education, and MD Anderson Culture
Chapter 16 / View on Career and Accomplishments
Interview Session One: 20 February 2014 (listen/read)
Interview Identifier (listen/read)
Chapter 01 (Educational Path)
Choosing Biochemistry: a Window into the Complexity of the Universe (listen/read)
In this segment, Dr. Hung traces talks about his life and studies in Taiwan, before leaving for his Ph.D. program in the United States. He first talks about his family and what the perspective he gained on administration from the family business. He notes that his two years of military service (1973 – 1975) taught him discipline. He sings a few bars of “Can’t Help Falling In Love” to demonstrate his good singing voice.
Dr. Hung then explains why he wanted to be a scientist and traces the growth of his interest in laboratory work and biochemistry from the National Taiwan University (B.S. Chemistry ’73) and Masters (’77). He explains his Master’s project: isolating a protein in snake venom to understand its structure and function as a cardiotoxin. Dr. Hung shares recollections of his student days. He defines primary, secondary and tertiary protein structure.
Chapter 02 (Personal Background)
Experiencing Culture Shock in the United States (listen/read)
Dr. Hung emphasizes that he loves Taiwan, but simply had to emigrate to the United States in order to build a serious career in the sciences. He describes the process of finding U.S. institutions to apply to and explains how he ended up going to Brandeis University (Waltham, Massachusetts) for his Ph.D. program in biochemistry.
Dr. Hung explains the meaning of his first name (bright + strange or outstanding) and also his wife’s name. He explains that Brandeis offered positions to them both, a strong factor in his deciding to go there.
Next Dr. Hung talks about the culture shock he experienced in the seventies then explains how important for international students to understand that they are representatives of their countries of origin.
Chapter 03 (Educational Path)
A High Pressure Ph.D. Program and Research in Protein Biochemistry (listen/read)
Dr. Hung explains the competitive and high-pressure atmosphere at Brandeis and explains the six rotations through laboratories required of first year graduate students. He describes his work isolating hormone regulation genes. He explains why it is important for scientists to understand how to perform all stages of an analysis or research process as they create new knowledge and comments on graduate education today.
Dr. Hung then talks about his mentor, Pieter Winsink, who was researching the new processes of cloning. He explains that Dr. Winsink’s lab was very small, friendly and supportive, and that Dr. Winsink and his wife, Dorothy, often hosted social events for the lab. He observes that he learned a lot about American culture as a result. He also explains that he has replicated this culture in his own laboratory. He also concludes that a laboratory is much like a family and explains how he acts on this idea in his own laboratory: “Once you are in my laboratory, you are my people and I take care of you.”
Chapter 04 (The Researcher)
Post-Doctoral Study at MIT and Work on Oncogenes: the neu oncogene and c-erbB2 gene (listen/read)
Dr. Hung observes that he was always interested in how biochemistry research could connect to human disease. He explains that key scientific discoveries were made in 1982 that made the time perfect for someone in molecular biology to begin working on disease, particularly Dr. Robert Wienberg’s work on oncogenes. Dr. Hung describes his interview with Dr. Wienberg, which took him to MIT for post-doctoral work (’84 – ’86).
He next discusses project cloning an oncogene from the neuroblastoma of the offspring of pregnant rats. Dr. Hung cloned the gene in six months.
He next talks about how this work expanded into his work on breast cancer, using the oncogene model to predict mortality. He explains that the overexpression of genes resulted in breast cancer and many other cancers.
Chapter 05 (Joining MD Anderson/Coming to Texas)
The Right Time in the Biochemistry to Move into Cancer Studies (listen/read)
Dr. Hung explains that he was attending a symposium and he heard about a job at MD Anderson form some junior faculty members. He talks about the reasons he wanted to leave Boston. Dr. Garth Nicholson recruited him in 1986. He notes that he knew very little about cancer at the time, nevertheless, in the aftermath of genetic and molecular studies made in 1982, he knew that this was the right time for someone with his specialty to take on the challenge of cancer.
At the end of the session, Dr. Hung comments on the importance of collecting the stories of key researchers and others who have contributed to MD Anderson.
Session 2: 7 March 2014 (listen/read)
Interview Identifier (listen/read)
Chapter 06 (Joining MD Anderson/Coming to Texas)
Recruited to Bring Cutting-Edge Oncogene Research to MD Anderson (listen/read)
Dr. Hung explains that Dr. Garth Nicholson recruited him to MD Anderson because of his focus on tumors.
Dr. Hung jokingly tells about all of the colleagues how said, “Don’t go to Houston.” He tells a joke from a scientist’s perspective that compares China’s long history with the US’s very brief one. This joke, Dr. Hung explains, tells why Houston’s supposed lack of history and culture did not matter to him.
Dr. Hung explains that, when he was recruited, his work was considered ‘very modern and cutting-edge” because of his focus on oncogenes and cloning.
Chapter 07 (The Researcher)
Early Work on Oncogenes and Adenoviruses: The First Gene Therapy (listen/read)
Dr. Hung first describes how he set up his lab to have an impact on research into human oncogenes. His goal was to identify a transcription suppressor and his work on clarified that the EIB gene has oncogene activity, whereas EIA does not. Dr. Hung explains how “over-interpretation of data” can result in these types of assumptions about molecular and genetic function. His next move was to take this knowledge to breast cancer.
Next Dr. Hung explains that he and others formed an MD Anderson-based biotech company in the 90s to take therapy using EIA to (successful) clinical trials. He then explains how he began to think in new ways about the HER2/neu gene, looking for transcription factors.
Dr. Hung describes a clinical trial: the first trial of gene therapy for breast cancer and ovarian cancer. He explains the implications of this study.
He talks about controversies over gene therapy, then explains practical challenges of gene therapy research, many relating to the vector used to transport the gene-related agents to cancer cells.
Chapter 08 (The Researcher)
The Rationale Behind Translational Research and Why MD Anderson Provides a Good Environment (listen/read)
Dr. Hung describes meeting Dr. Waun Ki Hong, then explains what it means to think in a translational way, where a researcher works purposefully for a clinical outcome (rather than allowing these to spring accidentally from work not explicitly conducted with clinical issues in mind). Dr. Hung also notes that, as MD Anderson, “important clinical colleagues” are dealing with significant clinical questions, creating an environment conducive to solving the most important clinical questions in cancer. Dr. Hung points out why the overexpression of the HER2 neu oncogene is a great example of the translational model of research.
Dr. Hung expresses how happy he is to work at MD Anderson, where he can pursue his passion for clinical research questions. He explains why he loves the song, The Impossible Dream.
Dr. Hung describes the mindset of researchers involved in translational questions, where basic science outcomes can influence patients. He notes that scientists are part of the human community and can make a contribution to human issues.
Chapter 09 (The Educator)
Training Basic Scientists: Grasping the Field and Preparing for the Future (listen/read)
Dr. Hung notes that his laboratory graduates more Ph.D.s than any other at MD Anderson and that his mentees go on to solid careers. He next explains the unique features of the Department’s Journal Club, which meets on Saturday mornings and gives the department an opportunity to review fifteen to twenty journal articles. Dr. Hung explains that is it usual to review a much smaller number of articles in great detail, but he wants his faculty and graduate students to learn how to assess articles for new concepts in the field that might be exploited. He also notes that this practice enables graduate students to learn how to present concepts to peers and colleagues, and is part of his pedagogic approach to broaden graduate students capacities to assess concept and make research decisions based on a view of activity in a field. He explains the important of training graduate students to address “diseases we do not know about.”
Chapter 10 (The Researcher)
Research into Receptors, Pathways, Cross-Talk and the Utility of Existing Drugs (listen/read)
Dr. Hung begins this Chapter by explaining the structure of receptors and how explosion of knowledge about signal transduction set the stage for targeted therapy.
He talks about his work on tyrosine kinase and interventions in signaling cross talk, explaining this concept. Throughout this segment, Dr. Hung explains that he focuses on investigations into how existing drugs can intervene in molecular and genetic processes, as this avoids time-intensive drug research.
Next Dr. Hung talks about trials involving the HER2 gene and head and neck and colon cancers. He explains that his work on kinases addresses the needs of the twenty percent of breast cancer patients who are “triple negative” and whom clinicians simply don’t know how to help.
“There are twenty thousand proteins in a cell,” Dr. Hung says. “But we only need fifty” to make a difference to cancer patients. He explains the “huge paradigm shift” that has occurred and talks about the future of research on cancer, breast cancer, and pancreatic cancer.
Chapter 11 (The Researcher)
Co-Director of the Women’s Cancer Moon Shot Program: An Environment of Team Science and Translational Research (listen/read)
Dr. Hung discusses Dr. Ronald DePinho’s Moon Shot programs. He explains that ovarian cancer and breast cancer have been paired in one Moon Shot because of similarities in their molecular profiles. He explains how the Moon Shots Program is structured administratively and practically with leaders and researchers drawn from surgery, gynecology and other specialties. He notes that fundraising is taking place now.
Dr. Hung next talks about the collaborative mindset the Moon Shots require, creating changes to MD Anderson. He compares the Moon Shots and SPORE grants (Specialized Programs of Research Excellence, administered by the NIH).
Interview Session Three: 21 April 2014 (listen/read)
Interview Identifier (listen/read)
Chapter 12 (Building the Institution)
Developing Translational Research at MD Anderson (listen/read)
In this segment, Dr. Hung discusses his first administrative experience as Director of the Breast Cancer Basic Research Program (1996 – 2008) and discusses translational research.
He notes that he worked with Dr. Gabriel Hortobagyi (Interview # 29), knowing little about clinical work on the time. He explains that in the early 1990s, the leadership at MD Anderson wanted to foster interactions between clinicians and basic researchers, a culture of collaboration began to develop and have an impact on patient care. Next Dr. Hung explains what he learned about himself as a leader who could have “a different level of impact” as an administrator. He observes that the timing for expansion of translational research was very good, as the field has amassed a critical amount of information. Dr. Hung then talks about the impact of a translational focus on research. He explains communication gaps between clinicians and basic researchers. He concludes with comments on MD Anderson’s translational focus and the evolution of translational perspectives nationally.
Chapter 13 (The Researcher)
A Twenty-Year Study that Promises a Paradigm Shift: The Yeast Two-Hybrid System (listen/read)
In this segment, Dr. Hung describes his involvement in controversial research on the Yeast Two-Hybrid System. He sets the context by explaining the prevailing theory about how cell receptors interact with proteins, noting unexpected discoveries linking a receptor to activity inside a cell nucleus. Dr. Hung has built on this discover and traces the history of publishing his findings. He speculates on why they have not been accepted. He explains that he has always been convinced that there is something significant in this finding and notes that his laboratory has continued to work on the mechanisms of how the signals move from the surface receptor to the nucleus of a cell. His laboratory has demonstrated that these signals influence DNA repair and transcription and therefore have implications for anti-cancer therapy. He notes that his laboratory has been able to link the Yeast Two-Hybrid system to functions involved in liver regeneration. In the remainder of this segment, Dr. Hung makes general statements about how basic scientist must focus on the reproducibility of data, rather than accepted dogma, to guide the discovery process.
Chapter 14 (Building the Institution)
The Department of Molecular and Cellular Oncology (listen/read)
In this segment, Dr. Hung describes the history and development of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Oncology, a Department he has headed since 2000.
He sketches the history of the department’s leadership and reporting structure. When Dr. Hung became Chair , he reported to Dr. Margaret Kripke [Oral History Interview]. He describes the very bold goals he set for the new department to quickly raise standards and the profile. He then explains how he was able to convince faculty to rise to this challenge. He affirms that his is a “model department,” demonstrating collaboration between basic scientists and clinicians.
Next Dr. Hung briefly talks about a major lesson he learned about leadership after taking on the Chair of the Department: “never confront” and argue or become angry with faculty.
[the recorder is paused for about 2 minutes]
Next Dr. Hung briefly talks about MD Anderson’s Mentorship Committee Program for junior faculty.
Finally, Dr. Hung shares his aspirations for the bright future of the Department under the new leadership of Dr. Ronald DePinho and his Moon Shots program. He says, “My dream is to go to CVS for cancer drugs,” and explains that basic research is already helping the right patient to choose the right drug.
Chapter 15 (The Administrator)
Vice President of Basic Research; The Institute for Basic Science (listen/read)
Dr. Hung begins this Chapter explaining how he was offered the position of Vice President of Basic Research and accepted to have more impact at MD Anderson. He explains his roles, working with Dr. Robert Bast [Oral History Interview] and Provost Raymond DuBois on virtually every basic science activity. Dr. Hung explains their recruiting philosophy: “We need to hire people that are better than you and better than me!”
Dr. Hung next explains that the new president, Dr. Ronald DePinho, wanted a great deal of recruitment and Dr. Hung was involved in those activities. He shares impressions of Dr. DePinho and explains the positive points of Dr. DePinho’s Moon Shots program.
[The recorder is paused for about 8 minutes]
Dr. Hung next talks about the Institute for Basic Science, created to raise funds for basic science research, an area that traditionally doesn’t do much fundraising. He explains the administrative structure and changes and talks about the Institute’s impact.
[The recorder is paused for about 4 minutes]
Dr. Hung summarizes the Institute’s fundraising accomplishments and goals.
Chapter 16 (View on Career and Accomplishments)
Leaving a Legacy in Research, Education, and MD Anderson Culture (listen/read)
Dr. Hung begins this Chapter with comments on how happy he has been at MD Anderson during his twenty-eight years at the institution. He is gratified to know he is “really part of a team” and that he has been able to sustain his basic-science focus while working on patient-related issues. Dr. Hung next notes that he would like to be recognized for his research that has yielded patient outcomes. He also notes the challenges that have come with running a large laboratory of forty to fifty people, and how he also is very active training and educating members of his laboratory. He talks about the importance of training the next generation of scientists –for MD Anderson and to apply knowledge at other institutions and in other scientific arenas. He also talks about how important it is for researchers to “learn science and how to behave.” He notes that the Department’s Ph.D. program is second in the nation.
This interview with Mien-Chie Hung, Ph.D. (b. 4 September 1950, Taiwan, Republic of China) takes place over three sessions conducted in spring of 2014 (for an approximate duration of 5:15). Dr. Hung came to MD Anderson in 1986 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Tumor Biology and in the Graduate School of Biomedical Science. Since 2000 he has served as Chair of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Oncology. In 2010 he was appointed Vice President for Basic Research. Dr. Hung holds the Ruth Leggett Jones Distinguished Chair. This interview takes place in Dr. Hung’s office in the Clark Clinic on the Main Campus of MD Anderson. Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D. is the interviewer.
Dr. Hung received his B.S. in Chemistry from National Taiwan University, Chemistry in 1973 and his Masters in Biochemistry from the same institution in 1977. He emigrated to the United States and received his M.A. and Ph.D. from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts in 1983. He went to Massachusetts Institute of technology for post-doctoral work (1984 – 1986). He was recruited to MD Anderson in 1986.
In 1992, Dr. Hung was the first to show that the adenovirus type EA1 gene has antitumor activity in HER2/neu cancer cells. Dr. Hung has been recognized internationally for his work on signaling transduction pathways of tyrosine kinase growth factor receptors and molecular mechanisms of oncogenes, including transformation and tumorigenesis. He has long been involved in translational research, and has developed therapies for breast, ovarian and pancreatic cancer. Dr. Hung was inducted as an Academician of the Academia Sinica in Taiwan in 2002 and as a Member of the University of Texas Academy of Health Science Education in 2006. In 2010 he was named a Fellow in the Biological Sciences Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2011 he received the Presidential Award of the Society of Chinese Bioscientists in America and the University of Texas MD Anderson LeMaistre Outstanding Achievement Award.
In this interview, Dr. Hung provides a snapshot of the working strategies, inspirations, and commitment of a basic scientist. He gives detailed descriptions of the major projects he has undertaken on signaling pathways and genes, as also describes his paradigm-shifting work on how receptors can transmit signals to a cell nucleus where they influence mechanisms that have an impact on cancer. Throughout, he elaborates on the nature of translational research and the types of collaborative relationships that must be fostered in institutional culture to support such work. Dr. Hung provides a history of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Oncology and offers a view of MD Anderson as an institution from the perspective of the Vice President of Basic Research. Dr. Hung’s sessions are enlivened by his wit and humor, qualities that often draw on his Chinese background and cultural connections.